Mist: The end of mediocre Wifi
29 March 2018 | Natalie Bannerman
Mist, the AI-driven wireless enterprise, talks to Capacity about its next-gen wifi and disruptive location-based services.
We’ve all been there. Stuck in a large entertainment venue or conference with hundreds if not thousands of people, who like you are fighting to get on the internet and it only ends with us throwing our hands up in defeat and blaming the crappy Wifi. Enter Mist.
Mist is the first AI-driven WLAN and indoor location services company that is changing the game when it comes to next-generation Wifi and cloud services. Formed of the who’s who of the wireless space, Mist's team comes from the likes of Cisco, Trapeze, Aruba, Airespace and Aerohive.
Jeff Aaron was previously at Silver Peak, and is now, vice president of marketing at Mist. He says: “We’ve all been competing with each other over the years. Mist is the first start-up in over a decade so everyone is excited to jump back in and innovate in the wireless space again.”
The next generation of wireless
Explaining what Mist’s offerings are and what makes them so unique, Aaron replies: “The biggest trouble with Wifi today is when you show up to a hotel, a convention centre, or an airport if it doesn’t connect the first thing you do is blame the Wifi. It could be the internet, it could be your device, it could be a thousand other things but everyone blames the Wifi. Then when you call the helpdesk all they can tell you is that the access point is green, so ‘I don’t know what’s wrong’.”
But Mist is able to remedy that by enabling visibility on the Wifi network and into the user experience. “We’re taking it a step further and have designed a solution using AI that is more simple, predictable and reliable, but more importantly more measurable. For first time ever it's a user-centric wireless approach.”
Wireless is about more than just smart internet connectivity, Aaron says it’s also about location experiences that apply to a number of different use cases. “It’s about knowing where you are and personalising your experience to tailor your needs. So if I’m a hotel that’s greeting you when you check-in, letting you share your location with your friends at the pool, letting you share an iPhone or Chromecast to your Apple TV, if you’re a retail store waking your app up to give you coupons, if you’re at a hospital checking you in etc. those are all location–based experiences,” he continues.
Although Mist is primarily a software-as-a-service company (SaaS), it does sell certain pieces of hardware like access points because, as Aaron put it, “we collect over 100 states from every mobile client every two seconds and to do that you need special hardware to get that level of granularity. You need a modern cloud so we looked at how the likes of Netflix and LinkedIn built their cloud which are massively scalable.”
It was earlier this year that Mist released its (AI)-driven Virtual Network Assistant (VNA) for wireless operations and integrated helpdesk. The VNA is powered by Mist’s AI engine, Marvis, which Aaron refers to as the ‘secret sauce’. VNA is a new cloud-based micro-service that uses natural language processing to make it easy to query the Mist global cloud for real-time monitoring of mobile client activity.
“The problem is the helpdesk people are very different to the IT people,” says Aaron. “They aren’t tech experts so what we’re doing with VNA’s is putting a wireless expert right next to them, so they can easily troubleshoot and get the root cause of a problem much quicker.”
Wifi is the steak and location is the sizzle
As for the services side of the business Mist has two offerings around Bluetooth and location. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Engagement is about pushing information to you. “So when you show up onsite it’s about greeting you, checking you in and giving you directions etc.,” explains Aaron. BLE Asset Location, is about locating assets. “So where’s an infusion point at a hospital, where’s a wheelchair, where’s a palette in a warehouse, if there’s an emergency and your BLE is in your badge are my employees still on premise or have they vacated already.”
On the Wifi side Mist also has additional services. “Wifi assurance has been out for about a year now, and that’s all about service levels, making troubleshooting easier,” says Aaron. “All the data you need to troubleshoot is stored in real-time and you don’t need to step foot on premise it’s all available in the cloud. And the VPN troubleshooting solution is as easy as asking ‘how was Randy’s iPhone doing last week?’ a simple question, just like using Alexa.”
In addition Mist also has a patented BLE antenna array that uses machine learning in the cloud so every device is constantly seen by every access point which is constantly voting and re-voting on where they think that is. “We give you 1-3 metre accuracy 90% of the time,” added Aaron.
The company also has virtual beacons that give alerts, messages and general location services. “They are 100% customisable, 100% software-based and it can offered 100% programmable where you can set it to say certain messages on a daily basis, with analytics built into the system for free. Our access points also have an IoT port because we do have customers tying in their location with IoT,” explains Aaron.
Mist has been shipping for about a year and half and now has 250 customers, 25 of which are fortune 500 companies. According to Aaron some pretty big names have already switched from the likes of Aruba and Cisco to Mist. The list includes a top eCommerce company that we’re all could probably guess, the internet search engine company, the top social media company, some retail customers, Disney resorts, and the VA administration. “That’s testimony that we’re doing something pretty unique,” boasts Aaron.
The business model works, now it’s the execution
Mist recently launched its Europe, Middle East and Africa division back in October, naming Thorsen Freitag as vice president for the region. Speaking on the progress of this announcement, Freitag said: “Given that the company has acquired 280 clients in just a little over a year, we see that Europe has a significant growth opportunity as well. We launched our EMEA side of the business October 1st, and already have eleven people. We have people in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Netherlands, we’re adding resources pretty much as we speak. The opportunity is there and those use cases that Jeff mentioned we see the same demand for those here.”
Adding “Our sales model is completely channel so we’re not selling directly. We are engaging directly with the end client to educate and create awareness but the act of fulfilment and implementation will be done through partnerships. Exclusive Networks is one of the pan-European IT distributors and we signed with them in December.”
But there are surely some concerns when it comes to security for such a visible and transparent offering, but Aaron isn’t worried explaining: “There’s security and there’s privacy. When we’re collecting data, we’re only collecting header information, we don’t collect payload information. We don’t collect private data and all of our customer’s data is their own. The data we do collect goes to the Amazon cloud and it is encrypted and we use all the security mechanisms associated with the Amazon cloud.”
As the EMEA side of the business begins to gain traction and the company continues to enhance its current offerings, Aaron says that the strategy for the company is to add more services on top of its platform to either go deeper into the personas it already sells to, or to appeal to other personas within the IT organisation.
But the ultimate goal for Mist is “to transition from network-centric to user-centric. AI and cloud are key to this and then it’s about building amazing services on top of that.”